What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the following:

  • Difficulties in social communication differences, including verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Deficits in social interactions.
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities and sensory problems

Many of those with ASD can have delayed or absence of language development, intellectual disabilities, poor motor coordination, and attention weaknesses.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was previously known as autism or pervasive developmental disorder. It’s a lifelong condition. People with ASD benefit from therapies that can teach new skills.

Toddler girl in child occupational therapy session doing sensory playful exercises with her therapist.

Based on the most recent CDC report, ASD is estimated to affect about 1 in 54 children, with boys being more likely to have ASD than girls. Government statistics suggest that the prevalence of ASD (how common it is) has risen 10% to 17% in recent years.

What are the signs of ASD?

Signs of ASD range from mild to severely disabling. If your child shows any of the following signs, please get in touch with your child’s healthcare provider to discuss a referral for an autism evaluation.

  • Doesn’t respond to their name being called at all or responds inconsistently.
  • Doesn’t smile widely or make warm, joyful expressions by the age of 6 mo.
  • Your child doesn’t engage in smiling, making sounds and making faces with you or other people by the age of 9 mo.
  • Doesn’t babble by 12 mo.
  • No back-and-forth gestures like showing, pointing, or waving by 12 mo.
  • No words by 16 mo.
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 mo.
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age.

When might you begin to wonder if your child has ASD?

While ASD is believed to be a disorder of very early brain development, the behavioral signs of autism characteristics surface between age 1 and ½ years of age and 3 years of age.

What causes (ASD)?

Genetics plays a role in ASD. When one child is diagnosed with ASD, the next child to come along has about a 20% greater risk of developing a than normal. When the first two children in a family have both been diagnosed with ASD, the third child has about a 32% greater risk of developing ASD.

How is ASD diagnosed?

There are no laboratory tests to determine ASD. However, certain healthcare providers receive specific training and can do screenings and evaluations if needed and who might ask parents or teachers to record observations. These providers might include specialized physicians, psychologists, and speech-language pathologists.

How is ASD treated?

ASD is most often a life-long condition. People with autism benefit from behavioral interventions or therapies that can teach new skills to address the core deficits of autism and to reduce the core symptoms. Every child and adult with ASD is unique. For this reason, the treatment plan is individualized to meet specific needs. It is best to begin interventions as soon as possible, so the benefits of therapy can continue on throughout the course of life.

Early intensive behavioral treatments involve the entire family and possibly a team of professionals. As your child ages and develops, treatment may be modified to cater to their specific needs.

During adolescence, children benefit from transition services that promote skills of independence essential in adulthood. The focus at that point is on employment opportunities and job skill training.

What is the outlook for people with ASD?

In many cases, the symptoms of ASD become less pronounced as a child gets older. Parents of children with ASD may need to be flexible and ready to adjust treatment as needed for their child.

People with ASD may go on to live typical lives, but there is more often a need for continued services and support as they age. The needs depend on the severity of the symptoms. For most, it’s a lifelong condition that may require ongoing supports.

Through research, there has been much that has been learned about autism spectrum disorder over the past 20 years. There is ongoing active research on the causes of ASD, early detection and diagnosis, prevention, and treatments.